Chlorella is a microscopic unicellular algae that does not measure more than 10 microns in diameter, but despite its size, it can be the solution to stop using food in the production of biofuels.
That is the opinion of Alberto Iglesias and Cecilia Corregido, who work in the Molecular Enzymology Area of the Instituto de Agrobiotecnología del Litoral (IAL), dependent on the Universidad Nacional del Litoral (UNL) and CONICET, where they study Chorella enzymes, which It could produce compounds of interest in the world of alternative fuels. “Chlorella is an alga that can grow through photosynthesis, although it can also grow through some substrate. When these changes are applied, the products obtained may be different, ”said Iglesias.
As he added, the study of enzymes is essential because they are proteins present in all living organisms, whose function is to catalyze chemical reactions: “Catalyzing means accelerating reactions. All reactions are catalyzed by different enzymes so that they occur in the same time frame. Some of these enzymes are regulated, which also regulates the entire group of reactions that occur within a cell, which is known as 'metabolism', ”he said.
Corrected highlighted that they grew the algae in different culture conditions in the laboratory: in photosynthetic conditions and through an external source of carbon. In this way, they analyzed its two reserve compounds, starch and lipids, since both can be used to produce biofuels. “We found that in photosynthesis (autotrophic condition) the alga accumulated three times more starch than when food was provided (heterotrophic condition), in which case three times more lipids were generated, indicating that the increase in lipid synthesis goes to the detriment of starch synthesis ”, he said.
The studies were carried out at the enzymatic level, that is, studying the enzymes related to these two metabolisms, those of starch and lipids. At the same time, they observed that the most important enzymes involved in these metabolisms were also affected when the algae grew in one or another condition.
Biofuels and genes
Iglesias said that through starch, photosynthetic organisms accumulate sugars that can be converted into ethanol for the production of bioethanol, which can be used as biofuel. On the other hand, with the lipids generated by the microalgae, biodiesel can be produced, a fuel that is produced in the province of Santa Fe, but from soybean oil.
“The idea would be to replace, in the future, soybean oil with algae oil. There are different laboratories in the world that are trying to do it, with different levels of success, although it is not carried out mainly at an industrial level ”, the researcher emphasized.
At the same time, he pointed out that the main difficulty in producing a biofuel from algae lies in the cultivation, which is why knowing its metabolisms is fundamental. From there, strategies can be devised to cause them to accumulate more starch or more lipids.
Corrected, he said that they now test ten genes involved in the metabolism of algae, valuable information to produce proteins that will later be studied and selected to generate starch and lipids.
Iglesias stressed that the importance of these studies is that biofuels can be produced in an alternative way, through natural products that do not compete with human food. “Currently, biodiesel is produced from soybeans and bioethanol by means of sugar cane or corn, that is, food products. It is not bad, but knowing the history of humanity if the most powerful societies need to be supplied with fuel, their hand will not shake so that a part of humanity does not eat ”, he concluded.